The Speaker’ s handling of the impeachment articles may hurt Democrats going forward.
After four weeks of silence, Nancy Pelosi finally sent the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. While Pelosi stated that the wait for the Senate to release information on the structure of the impeachment trial led to her delay, the radio silence after the proceeding in the House left most Democrats in the dark on the status of a major issue for both their own reelection and the presidential race. This will have lasting effects not only on the impeachment trial in the Senate, but on the political capital political operatives will have in the future.
In the Senate, the Democrats and Republicans were unable to decide on a set of rules together. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally modeled his rules after the 1999 Clinton impeachment, leaving no guarantee that witnesses would be called. This left Pelosi backed into a corner, unable to actually ensure the inclusion of witnesses in the trial, including John Bolton, a significant witness since he is reported to have firsthand information on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Finally, Pelosi named her seven impeachment managers to preside over the trial in the Senate, who then proceeded to hand-deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 15. After it became obvious that the trial was about to proceed, McConnell signalled that there was a strong likelihood witnesses would be called.
This entire process was a mess of meetings and strong arming that did not seem to work in Pelosi’s favor. By staking her claim in the Senate’s impeachment trial rules that did not pan out, she was left without power in deciding when to serve the articles, and by leaving the majority of her caucus out of the loop on the decision, she created a situation where one poor moment of judgement could completely prevent any sort of political successes on the issue of removing President Trump.
In addition, she has shown just how much power she wields over the rest of the Democrats, especially when she did not even include her second in command, Jim Clyburn, on most of the deliberations on timing of sending the articles over. As the 2020 election draws closer, will this lead more Democrats to consider another choice of leadership in the future, or will Democrats allow Pelosi to continue to be the face of the party? Either way, this betrays the power of some of the other Democratic operatives to get policy hashed out behind the scenes; if they weren’t included in this decision, how close could they really be to Pelosi? Impeachment makes for a once in a lifetime set of political circumstances, and these questions still remain unanswered.
Finally, the timing. By waiting until this point to start the impeachment trial, this brings it to the forefront of the Democratic presidential primaries. If the votes somehow appear to remove Trump, this will completely shift the stage. However, more than that, this close to Iowa and New Hampshire, impeachment will creating a dueling narrative and dilute some of the focus given to both, in a time where the Democrats need to determine a strategy to beat Trump in the general.
The almost month-long delay both allowed the public to forget about impeachment, especially for low information voters, but also to shift their focus. There is an uphill battle in the Senate, but the moves Pelosi has made seem to betray her lack of faith in any Democratic successes in the Senate.